Rights, Authority and Necessity

The following is a transcript recovered from an old C4L blog that I maintained during my heady days as a minarchical statist. Originally published on 28-July-2009.

Table of Contents

1 Regarding Rights, Authority and Necessity

Folks reading the previous blog entry I wrote and either accepting or not caring about the main arguments within it pose to me a question, "why don't you think health care is a right?"

The answer to that question is found within the text itself. I subscribe to the American philosophy of rights. In this philosophy, as I said before, rights are not something you get from any source outside yourself. Human rights are engrained in your DNA, not to be plucked as fruit from a tree.

Some may argue that this makes for an awkward conundrum because we all agree that a person does have a right to live. In order to do so, a person must eat. Yet by my assertion, since food is not the sort of thing that you can simply think into existence for yourself, food is not a human right. I happen to think that's true: Food is not a right, either.

Food is a necessity. Unlike a right, which you are born with and never have to acquire, food needs to be grown, harvested, chased-down, raised, or purchased from someone who did so. Nutrition is something that people need in order to exercise their rights. But it is not the right in and of itself. The same could be said for any other basic human need: Shelter, medicine, and those psychological things that keep us from going batty.

Every right that exists is coupled with certain necessities. The right to a free press necessitates literacy and a mode of distributing information, the right to freedom of assembly necessitates a means of traveling so that people may assemble, the right to armament necessitates weapons and training, the right to privacy necessitates property and so forth.

In all these cases, it is my assertion that rights must be protected from infringement by others. How one chooses to satisfy needs is a matter of choice but whether someone is allowed to exercise his rights is a matter of principle. The ability to choose how you satisfy the necessities behind your rights is the very heart of independence. The more such choices one has, the more freedom that person enjoys.

In all these cases, the right to free enterprise is critical. You have a right to perform exchanges and acquire the necessities of your unalienable human rights. But it is important that we do not confuse these needs for the rights they support. With regard to all needs: Your right is to acquire necessities by equitable means. Your right is not to be free of necessity itself. Indeed, the very concept of a right to "freedom of necessity" as Hayek put it, undermines the very principles that human rights are based on (see also: The Road to Serfdom).

It's because rights and necessities are two sides of the same coin that we find when governments attempt to free people from the burdens of necessity, they inevitably free people of the blessings of their rights at the same time.

Contrary to some peoples' beliefs, rights can always co-exist. Many try to create false dichotomies by saying things like: "You have a right to own property, but a starving man has a right to life. Which rights take precedence?"

But the ownership of property is never an infringement of another's right to live. When people envision such a contest, it is usually because they are seeing a contest between one man's ownership of food and a starving man's need for it. If you can distinguish rights from necessity, you find that there is no contest of rights taking place in that scenario. Furthermore, the conflict can only exist if the food owned by one man is literally the only source of food available to the starving man – making the hypothesis more an assessment of one's benevolence than a question of rights.

Continuing this hypothetical conflict, some argue that it is the "right" of government to infringe upon one man's rights to supply another's needs. Government is little more than a formalized practice of human societies. Government is like dance, pinochle, or football. It is not a living entity and thus cannot be born with unalienable human rights. The practice of government can never rightfully consist of acts beyond those that individuals can rightfully perform.

There is still a precedent where people tolerate deeds from government that they wouldn't necessarily tolerate from their next-door neighbors. This propensity to permit acts that have no basis in human rights does not create a new right for Government but it does create an authority.

Here we have the three basic principles that drive governments to exist. We all have rights and want to protect those rights against infringement. Each right has certain necessities that must be constantly flowing in order for our rights to perpetuate. From time to time, we run into circumstances that may jeopardize our rights and it is entirely common for us to appeal to the authority of government to secure our rights or even the necessities that support them.

Because our rights are of incalculable value, we spend a good deal of our time finding and securing the necessities that support them. Our careers are a big part of our lives. Through our daily labors, we secure necessities and often also express our rights. In the process, we bind ourselves to contracts, we perform exchanges of various resources, and manage to increase the distribution of wealth around us. This is called a free market and has historically been one of the most meaningful ways that people have secured the needs that perpetuate their rights.

When people have more opportunities to acquire their needs, those people can be said to enjoy a greater degree of security for their rights. Where food is perpetually and dangerously scarce, the right to life can be said to be in jeopardy. Where food is abundant, the right to live faces no threats from starvation.

So we see that the relationship between necessities and rights is real and cannot be ignored. It's easy to understand why people confuse their needs for their rights or even vice-versa. But since rights are something you're born with, you cannot have more rights than another. Whereas necessities can be acquired and thus, the distribution of them may not always be equal.

In cases where government authority violates one's right to ownership to satisfy the needs of another, nobody's rights have been upheld. Though one man's needs have been met, it was merely a need and not a right that was given. The government did not exercise any rights in performing the transfer of wealth because governments don't have rights. And the rights of he who's property was stolen have been fundamentally violated.

Some argue that the wealth that was taken was small compared to the wealth the victim originally had and that the wealth that remains is still sufficient that the victim can continue on his merry way. While a person's survival is rarely at stake as a direct result of taking another's property, mere survival makes for a poor basis of comparison on ethical matters. It may be true that no immanent threat to a man's life may result from pilfering his posessions. Such a situation qualifies as an evil that is "sufferable", as the Declaration of Independence put it, but an evil none the less.

We must remember that we are never exercising a right when we do something with government authority. That authority and rights can and do coexist and such coexistence is to be celebrated. We should never diminish the joys that are had from living in a just society. There are times when authority can grow so large, however, that it loses precision in attempts to secure rights. At times like these, the clumsy behemoth of authority may attempt to protect one man's rights and end up demloishing others along the way. While some may continue to believe the collateral damage is small, establishing such a precedent desensatizes us to the violation itself.

It is the way of the Constitution and those who revere it to err on the side of rights rather than on the side of authority. It is the belief of those who know Austrian Economics that peoples' necessities tend to be more abundantly satisfied when the authorities of government are minimal. That if you want everyone to have their basic needs (and I think we can all agree that's a worthy goal) that the first step is to remove the authoritarian obstacles that inhibit our needs.

And it is for these reasons that we can, with a sound conscience, say that any government involvment in the health industry would be wrong, that we can and must oppose it, and that we can do so without violating a single human right.

Date: 2012-09-22 09:40

Author: Anthony "Ishpeck" Tedjamulia

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